I dare you…….follow the link and fail to be impressed.

Laser cut pieces for Art Deco inspired designs including hand veneered examples. I promise to show the finished versions later.

Every once in a while I come across something that really excites me and today that is just what happened.  If you are reading this then you probably already know about the idea of 3d printing or rapid prototyping.  If by some chance this is new to you have a look at this post and then come back; https://designfizzle.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/so-you-mean-i-can-print-in-chocolate/.   What I came across today was a really good idea from a school in Scotland, (I will add a credit for them as soon as I can find their website again).  The really cool idea was that they had set students a design task but added into the mix the option of designing some components which were then manufactured by a company who specialise in using a range of RP techniques to make to order.  The company is called Shapeways and the link to their site is; http://www.shapeways.com/   Have a browse, check out the range of products they have available and check out the material range they use.  If nothing else I really want to get some of their products as examples of what the technique can do but I really love the thought of students using this as part of their work.

There are some very good commercial machines available to schools but the cost is still high for most departments.  There are also much cheaper kits available which do a great job and will produce very good results but for a small scale project the idea of student designers sending a file to a professional company and getting their product manufactured has real appeal.  Not only would this illustrate the technology but it also places demands on the student to work to a professional standard with their CAD drawings and models the quite normal working practice of design professionals who design for others to make rather then the usual school model of being both designer and maker.

From another point of view I am finding the direction that digital technologies are steering design very interesting.  I have been told that an experienced eye can walk around any modern city and pick out the software packages that have been used to design individual buildings; the inference being that features built into the software are revealing themselves in the final design; the software constrains the designers in some ways.  Glance through any design journal, website or show and you will quickly pick up some of the trends that are being driven by digital technology.  Complex flat cut silhouettes are everywhere, easy access to design packages and laser cutters are behind this I suspect.  The same technologies are also evident in a widespread interest in folded designs, flat materials folded in interesting ways to generate three dimensional forms.  Light fittings in thermoformed sheet  polymers, plasma and water jet cut sheet metals and of course laser cut  plywoods and MDF.  If you need to confirm this have a look at the Christmas decorations on display in your local shops.    I even came across a book on folded architecture recently.

You can trace similar trends in graphic design and perhaps more interestingly there is a burgeoning trend towards a new art nouveau with designs that are inspired by the structure of natural materials rather than the plant forms of the 19th century design movement.  Incredibly lightweight structures for furniture which look remarkably like the internal honeycombing of a bone, jewelry that looks as if it had been grown on some exotic planet rather then crafted in a workshop.  Perhaps this is a re-run of the atomic design of the fifties, DNA design.  On a slightly more pragmatic level the idea of bio-mimicry as a design strategy has become relatively common; a local company examined polar bear fur to design a high performance fabric for their range of outdoor clothing for example.  The results of biomimicry are usually not quite so evident in the styling of a product as what I think I might start calling neo organic design. (Better than DNA design do you think?)  

The third strand to my thinking when I saw the Shapeways website was to do with the relationship between craft, design and technology.  Curiously in this country the subject I teach was known by this name for many years until the craft element was dropped.  It is ironic that state of the art technology should be the vehicle that brings craft back into the equation but it clearly does.  Alongside an incredible amount of open source design on the internet there is a growing group of makers who do not regard themselves as crafters in the way that the word has been used but are engaged with making or hacking the hardware.  For some people this is just a rediscovery of the pleasure to be had in making something for yourself or for others, for some it is an exploration of the ubiquitous technology that is so often designed to be tamper and repair proof.  Whatever the motivation the result is that people are experimenting with every aspect of technology to see what happens if………   The philosophical struggles that William Morris and like minded thinkers went through in trying to reach an accommodation with machine production while maintaining  excellence in design and craft is as nothing compared to the flux of ideas that we are now embarking upon.

And so back to our starting point.  Students designing and making clocks all over the country are routinely using mass produced quartz clock movements.  If I hand craft a clock and fit such a movement is it still a craft object? If I hand craft it but have some components rapid prototyped, what then?  I am sure that there will be those who want to maintain their craft tradition and who will despise the newer technologies.  I am equally sure that there is going to be a growing trend for individual design and commercial production.  It is going to be interesting to see where this goes in the next few years.

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